To sustain a conviction under the "use" prong of 18 U.S.C.S. § 924(c)(1), the government must show that the defendant actively employed the firearm during and in relation to the predicate crime.
Defendants, Bailey and Robinson, who were convicted of “using” a firearm in relation to a drug trafficking crime, challenged an order from the appellate court. 19 U.S.C.S. §924(c)(1) imposed a prison term upon a person who “during and in relation to any … drug trafficking crime … uses or carries a firearm.” Bailey’s conviction was based on a loaded pistol that the police found inside a bag in his locked car trunk after they arrested him for possession of cocaine revealed by a search of the car’s passenger compartment. The unloaded, holstered firearm that provided the basis for Robinson’s conviction was found locked in a trunk in her bedroom closet after she was arrested for a number of drug-related offenses; there was no evidence in either case that the defendant actively employed the firearm in any way, yet the defendants were convicted under the statute regardless.
Could defendants’ convictions for “using” a firearm in relation to a drug trafficking crime stand when the defendants never actually “deployed” the firearm, but stored it for potential use relating to a crime.
The Court reversed the judgments of the appellate court and remanded the cases for a determination as to whether the convictions could be upheld under the “carry” prong instead of the “use” prong of the statute. The Court found that the language, context, and history of the statute indicated that the government must show active employment of the firearm in order to convict. Such active employment would include brandishing, displaying, bartering, striking with, and firing or attempting to fire the weapon – it would not include storing a weapon near drugs or drug proceeds or placing the weapon somewhere for a later active use.